Humans in the past were hunter-gatherers, with sharp distance vision essential for spotting game or danger. But during the last 50 years, most of our work and recreational activities have shifted to within arm’s length. Visual habits have changed from unrestricted eye movements outdoors with wide fields of view to over-working our eyes in confined spaces for long hours. This resulting near point stress produces temporary and often permanent changes in our vision.
Many people spend long hours up close, staring at computer screens – more than 3 hours per day can fatigue and stress both your eye muscles and body. Up to 90% of computer users, students and office workers experience the following symptoms as a result of three factors: workplace conditions, habits and eyesight problems.
Symptoms of computer vision syndrome include:
- Tired, strained eyes (and body!)
- Red, burning, watery/dry, itchy eyes (and we blink alot less when we concentrate)
- Periodic blurred distance and/or near vision or delayed focusing
- Light sensitivity
- Neck, shoulder and back pain
- Concentration and performance problems
- Eye health problems
These symptoms can be alleviated by improving visual habits and your work environment. You may be able to avoid first-time spectacles by regularly implementing the following techniques and exercises into your daily routine:
Breathe! Firstly and most importantly, breathe slowly and deeply, through the nose. It’s easy to fall into shallow breathing when we concentrate. Breathing loosens tight muscles, allows blood and nutrients to flow and nourish the eyes and relaxes vision and the nervous system. As a breathing exercise, feel your chest, back and abdomen expand and shrink as your breathe in and out. Don’t overdo it! You can close your eyes and imagine a coloured balloon expanding and deflating in your abdomen, with each breath you are taking.
Another breathing exercise involves imagining that your eyes are inhaling and exhaling air, as if your eyes have become your lungs. Visualise the energy flowing into your relaxed and healthy eyes.
Deliberate and exaggerated yawning relaxes all the facial muscles, especially the jaw, which encourages deeper, fuller breathing and better oxygenation.
Palming: Dr Bates, the founder of modern-day natural eye care, favoured a technique called palming, taken from yoga. This exercise creates relaxation and promotes circulation. It rests the optic nerves, eye muscles and the nervous system. Try to do for at least a 5 min session, even longer for more serious eye conditions. Place yourself in a comfortable, dark room with pillows or a desk to support your elbows. Switch off the phone, making sure you won’t be disturbed. Rub your hands together to generate some warmth and healing energy, place palms over your eyes, cupping them. Block out all the light. Drop and relax your shoulders. Now breathe gently and deeply, imagining the black field ahead becoming blacker and blacker. The blacker you can imagine this field, the more relaxed your eyes and mind will be. Black is the colour of total relaxation for the eyes and mind, visualise your skull expanding and shrinking with each breath.
Eye Gymnastics: To tone and strengthen eye muscles, eye gymnastics can be done easily, anywhere, anytime. Keeping your head straight, roll your eyes slowly and smoothly up and down. When you get to the upper and lower limits, hold your eyes in that position for a few seconds, breathing deeply, and then move slowly to the opposite direction. Repeat this 3-4 times. Now try in the horizontal direction 3-4 times. Repeat in a diagonal direction, from one corner to the other. Then the other diagonal. Finish by rolling the eyes in a big circle 3-4 times then in the other direction 3-4 times. You may feel some strain or ache – don’t worry – this is normal when we’re working our eye muscles.
Near/Far Focus: For strengthening your ability to look quickly and accurately from one distance to another, we do this exercise throughout the day. Stand in front of a window. Hold your index finger near the tip of your nose; look at your finger tip for 3 seconds. Shift your gaze through the window to a very distant object for 3 seconds. Repeat the exercise, close to far, far to close, for a few minutes. Keep your target single and clear. You can modify this activity for driving, watching TV, computer use etc.
Blinking: Regular blinking bathes and massages the eyes, relieves tension and breaks up the bad habit of staring. As a blinking exercise, while breathing deeply, imagine your eyelashes doing the work – you want soft, gentle, regular blinks. You can also do blinking drills -blink 10 times in a row as a vision break, or squeeze blink (squeeze the eyes and face tight for 10 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds). Just closing the eyes for a few seconds is a good break.
Other tips for better vision:
- Every few minutes look up and focus on an object in the distance and take longer breaks away from your screen every 30 min – there is software to remind you to do this!
- Be aware of your environment – this can reduce mental and physical fatigue
- Keep your body soft and relaxed while working – move and shift your position often, varying your tasks
- Stretch and relax with neck and shoulder rotations, wiggle your toes, circle your ankles in both directions
- Massage your face, neck and shoulders to relieve any tension and stress
- Wear the appropriate spectacle prescription for your work
- Keep your glasses and screen clean!
- Position your screen slightly lower than eye level, directly in front of you
- Tilt your screen up slightly and have it at least 40cm away (try arms’ length)
- Use an anti-glare screen & eliminate glare sources when computer is off
- Use large dark characters on a light background (black on white is the best) & few colours on the screen; also lower the screen brightness and use large font
- Your work area should be well-illuminated, with lighting overhead and slightly behind you – during the day opt for natural sunlight (don’t face the window)
- Check your posture regularly (no contortions please) – always sit up, with head position balanced and central, shoulders and hips level, a backrest supporting your lower back, feet flat on floor, knee joint 90-100 degrees, elbow at right angles
Also consider other lifestyle factors affecting your eyesight such as stress and diet. Get more balance in your life – go for a walk at lunchtime under the sun, looking into the distance.
Address your stress! – Meditation, exercise, yoga, tai chi and relaxation exercises are a few suggestions. Eat well-balanced meals (no choc bars for lunch!), cut down on caffeine and drink adequate water. Adopt a relaxed, positive outlook on life and get enough sleep!
Keep your eyes healthy and sharp – vision is a precious gift!
Copyright Jenny Livanos 2010 – please feel free to share around at the office!